Detailed toilet and venue reviews from places I visit are on Euan’s Guide.
British standards are helping businesses thrive. Some of them define access for disabled people outside and inside public buildings.
What is a British Standard?
Standards define best practice in many different areas. They’re put together by groups of experts and come in a number of different kinds, from a set of definitions to a series of strict rules.
… Standards are not the same thing as government regulations, but they’re often used in legislation to provide the technical detail.
Standard BS 8300 defines access requirements from ‘set down points’ in car parks to the distance to the toilet or width of lifts. There is a section about toilet access, dimensions, fixtures, fittings etc which is best practice.
A new draft for BS 8300 is available to read and comment on. There are two parts – the toilet section is on 8300-2.
Link to draft BS 8300-1 and BS 8300-2 (enter 8300 in the search).
Are museums no go zones?
Have you ever been to a museum that hasn’t had a toilet for visitors, staff and volunteers? If it’s a medium to large museum – probably not. They are probably high on the list if not essential.
Disabled people are potential employees, volunteers and visitors, yet still so many museums fail to provide usable, safe toilets for people with access needs.
I’ve been to hundreds of UK museums of all sizes, only 2 fully met my needs. If I am with my care assistants I can only visit places with hoists.
If a museum provides accessible and usable toilets for people, the benefits are perhaps obvious:
- Larger pool of employees to choose from
- Disabled and older people can visit
- More attractive to disabled and older volunteers
- More attractive to schools who have disabled teachers or students
This leads to increased community outreach, education, visitors and profits / grants.
Without usable toilets, museums and galleries are choosing not to welcome and exclude disabled people.
We have accessible toilets
You have to be very ‘able’ to safely use ‘standard’ accessible toilets. You have to have either strong arms or legs (to transfer from a chair or stand/sit), good balance, good dexterity and grip to hold support rails. Many people are not that ‘able’ e.g. people with MD, MS, MND, arthritis, CP, paralysis, stroke, short limbs, learning difficulties, autism, anxiety … that’s collectively millions of people!!
This type of toilet might meet most of the standard criteria but only for the very able.
Museums need to:
- Audit standard toilets against the most recent recommendations for access
This one below has a raised seat which is not part of access criteria and can make it extra difficult or impossible for wheelchair transfers. The toilet roll is high up and the emergency cord is wrapped around the support rail.
- Install either a space to change toilet or Changing Places. These have essential space and equipment like a hoist and changing bench.
- Install a ceiling hoist over standard toilets to increase the number of visitors/staff who can only get out of their wheelchair with a hoist (like Lincoln Castle has below).
- Advertise your facilities or people won’t go if they are not confident there is a usable toilet.
- Show pictures of your toilets in access guides and provide clear signage.
- Have regular reviews of toilet access.
It is still disappointing that so many museums exclude people. Most of the big museums across London for example do not provide usable toilets (notably Cardiff and Edinburgh have full facilities in key museums) . When these London venues are approached they don’t want to know.
“In Kent there are no museums with hoists in their toilets – so I can’t visit at all.”
Attitudes must change if disabled people are to get inside museums – it doesn’t matter how many tactile maps, quiet areas and ramps you have if people then have to worry if they will wet themselves and have a miserable stressful day out.
Taken from our guide (see links page) we look at the importance of support rails in accessible toilets. AD M is approved document M of the U.K. Building Regulations.
It is possible to have many layouts to allow for the provided dimensions and fixture configurations in AD M.
The general layout of a unisex accessible toilet is to have horizontal grab rails to both the left and right side of the toilet [AD M: S 5.8].
Heights, lengths and distance from the toilet / sink / mirror etc must be precise as described in AD M.
Vertical rails must also be provided in specific places.
How many rails do people need?
74% of disabled/older people use handrails. They can be used to pull/push up with or simply to lean on for stability.
41% of powered wheelchair users prefer the right side, 30% the left and the rest had no preference in a 2005 study.
Some people need a rail both sides and on the back wall. The rails needs to be the right height, length, distance from the toilet/sink, thickness and colour.
An accessible toilet must have at least 5 support rails with additional ones if the toilet is located some distance from the wall.
As can be seen above, support rails can infringe on the transfer space and cause problems for some wheelchair users.
- Assess your toilet – do they have the full complement of support rails and are they in the right place and the right length / height?
- Mix it up – the standard suggests that if you provide more than one unisex toilet, a choice of layouts for left and right hand transfer should be provided.
- The smaller the space, the more grab rails will get in the way for powered wheelchair users and carers – re-consider your design space.
- Provide Changing Places toilets in addition to existing accessible toilets. The larger spaces to the left and right of a central toilet offer more transfer option angles for people who use powered wheelchairs, large walkers/ frames, or need carers to assist them.
Gill, a fellow toileteer, had a couple of questions – which I felt might be a useful topic to take a look at. Here is the first one:
Changing Places: Changing places room is greatly needed and appreciated by users, but it would appear that in general they get very little use. I believe that this is partly due to signage. The facility might appear on an app but once in the building there may be poor directions. Also once found they might well be locked and someone has to go on a key hunt. Apparently some providers are closing them as they have never been used, and the average usage is once every six months. There’s been a suggestion that they could become a more multi use facility? eg first aid room; baby changing room for a disabled parent. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Changing Places and similar toilets are very valuable. However, imagine you’re a shop or tourist attraction who has invested thousands in providing a large fully accessible toilet with a hoist and bench… only to find it’s rarely used. A waste of money, you say angrily, as you knock it down to make way for valuable retail space.
Aghhhhh. What went wrong?
We can break down some of the key reasons as to why they are at risk of being underused.
1) The toilet is not signposted within the venue or town.
I’m a CP toilet user and so many times I find there is no signposting. I know from the CP map that the venue has one … but it’s not on any venue map, booklet, and no directions given from public toilet blocks. (O2 Arena, Bluewater Shopping Centre and my local town come personally to mind).
- If you don’t tell people where it is then they won’t use it!
Yesterday I looked at the CP map and saw Toddingto Services had one … I went in only to find it was on the northbound side and I was southbound. Whilst it’s on the Google map section of the CP map, the description didn’t indicate which side!
2) The toilet isn’t called a Changing Places.
Staff might not know that a Changing Places toilet might be labelled, in their venue, as a ‘high dependency unit’ , ‘Space to Change’, ‘Hoist assisted toilet’, ‘Adult Changing Room’ etc. as there is no official standard name. People who use these toilets might not realise to look/ask for alternative names. (Bluewater/O2 Arena / mobile units come to mind).
In Lincoln castle they have a hoist … but they just call it ‘the accessible toilet’. No mention of it on their visitor literature!
- Staff training can help.
3) Location, location, location
These toilets might be a significant investment … so location is critical. Even if a large venue has a CP toilet, if you have to walk for 30 minutes to reach it, you might not use it. Maidstone has one in its council building – great only it’s over 30 minutes fast walk uphill from the museum, theatre, main shopping area etc. It’s quicker for me to drive home!!
- Toilets need to be central to the action.
Yesterday I was at Chester Zoo. It’s a huge venue. I was a long way away from the CP toilet (about 600 metres) and it was back in the direction we had come from, so I used a basic loo. Does that count as none use or just my personal choice and need for the loo quicker than we could reach it? The location is good though and well signposted – in fact I’d say in this instance 2-3 toilets would all be used well.
- Sometimes too few CP toilets or wrong locations can risk low overall use.
4) How is use being monitored?
Unless a person has to request one to be opened or someone is constantly watching the entrance (and this is being recorded) then usage monitoring might not be happening. Use might be ‘guessed’ by something as simple as ‘the bed paper roll’ still looks full or ‘the toilet roll hadn’t gone down in months’.
These methods have obvious flaws. Thinking of the many CP toilets I have used, only 1 was visible by staff at a reception desk (who had other work to do rather than to vigilantly act as official toilet monitor). How can venues say with certainty if they are being used or not?
Do cleaners make notes if it looks ‘used’?
Most are ‘just toilets’ with no special key and might be used for clothing changes or something which wouldn’t leave any dent in the toilet roll. I often use my own specialist wipes that are flushable – so you’ll never know I’ve been in.
Could they have other uses?
Thinking about secondary uses, the two obvious choices are noted by Gill. A first aid room or for wheelchair accessible baby changing.
The latter could be problematic in that parents using chairs are likely to need to sit under the changing table area to access their baby and CP benches are not open underneath. A height adjustable baby changing table might be an option that could fit in the full size CP toilet to assist disabled parents.
What about using it as a first aid room? There is nothing in health and safety legislation to suggest that a toilet space can not be a first aid room. However, whether someone would want to be treated in a room with a toilet nearby could be a problematic. Hygiene and infection control may be an issue and CP benches are often just a shower trolley – not meant for laying on for a prolonged period and not that comfy. There is also the consideration of what you would do if the room is being used and you needed the toilet or someone needed first aid. How likely this is to occur will depend on many factors. Location of the toilet and size may influence any decision to have a multi use room. For small to medium stores etc, multi use may be worth considering with the addition of a chair and first aid cabinet/wall mounted kit.
Let a toilet be a toilet
I see a simple solution. You don’t HAVE to use a bench or hoist to use the facility. Why not just have it as a toilet for use by anyone who would normally need an accessible toilet? Do disabled people in general know they can use it?
Currently building regulations say that venues need a standard wheelchair accessible toilet … and CP toilets are additional.
Well perhaps this should change – the only difference would be a finger wash basin near the toilet (and this could be fitted in a CP toilet as a moveable / swing out basin perhaps). That way one toilet suitable for all could be provided. Even going as far as enabling parents with children in prams to use the room in smaller venues where low use might be a financial issue?
Maybe, in small venues, we need to start providing shared facilities that serve more than just disabled hoist/bench users.
Whilst significant campaigning (largely by individuals with varying styles and mostly by parents) has resulted in the provision of over 850 of these toilets, we wondered whether it’s time for a change?
There is no single campaign or campaign strategy for changing places – individuals can do whatever they want. This makes the campaigns disjointed and dilutes or replicates efforts. You see this regularly across the multitude of social media accounts/Facebook Pages and private blogs identifying themselves as campaigners using the CP symbol. Whilst Aveso and the Consortium generate information sheets and ‘Selfie Kits’ etc … there is a blurring of who or what is the ‘official’ approach.
Protecting young people
Take the recent episode of parents who collected and posted pictures on the Internet of children (and other people’s children and young adults) on the toilet floor, face showing and wearing incontinence pads. Young people unable to consent to this undignified use of their image. If a school or care business did this it would be a serious child protection and human rights issue. However, when I raised this as a concern the Consortium said parent campaigners are not affiliated with them and can do as they wish. This didn’t stop their official social media accounts from sharing the images. Mixed messages ensued across multiple Internet forums. The rights of the child were lost amidst the the cause, angering many disabled people.
Would not the responsible approach be to support campaigners with training in methods and ideas which protect the privacy and dignity of children? Just because dignity was lost in being on the floor doesn’t mean the indignity should be extended by their image being shared. Is this the sort of campaign that can only achieve success by using increasingly shocking images? Thankfully many people did indeed use their creativity and there has been a reduction in the use of children as dignity martyrs – and so individual efforts continue and the campaign actively promotes them.
Pen v. sword?
Individuals can approach companies in any way they want ranging from polite letters and personal conversations to social media harassment.
It is likely that as much harm as good has been done with these tactics which has divided campaigners for toilet equality. How can you have a meaningful, positive conversation when the previous contact they had with a campaigner was focusesd on personal anger, emotion and frustration.
It’s easy to get angry when you have struggled that day in a cramped toilet and are gathering up your evidence to make a complaint or have ‘that’ conversation. You want to throw the book at them, yell at them. You want to drag them into the toilet and make them see what you have to go through. You want them to empathise and make things right – but all you get is a ‘sorry you were unconvenienced’ letter to fuel the next stage of complaint.
It’s hard not to let personal emotions damage your chances of negotiating an agreement to provide a toilet you and thousands of others can use. However, we have to remain polite, persistent, factual and professional. Unfortunately not all campaigners do – and that’s a big problem.
Time to rename and rebrand?
Many have kept their distance or tried to move things on locally. There have been issues with Changing Places being built that fall short of the recommended guidelines of 12 sq metres. That said it is a guideline. Some felt a smaller room was acceptable and out sprang the Space to Change campaign with its own logo. Then things became problematic with determining which ones were listed on the CP toilet map.
Recently a local campaign for a new branding of ‘Hoist Assisted Toilets’ has gathered momentum. In fact, one of the problems with the CP toilet was that they were very focused on the needs of people who used incontinence pads. This alienated (in name and focus) people who were continent but needed a hoist or those who needed a bit more space or other equipment. People didn’t like asking for a Changing Place due to the remaining stigma of incontinence.
This has led to CP toilets being called other names including ‘high dependency unit’, ‘Space to Change’, ‘Adult Changing Room’ etc. It’s confusing and has resulted in staff and visitors talking cross purposes and toilets not being found. If there was a single campaign with good leadership, one name, one symbol and one strategy then we might have more of these toilets.
The future of toilets
The result of the above could indicate that change is needed in many areas if we are to benefit from more Changing Places toilets in the UK.
This was a trip in 2010 and I have re published for archiving one this project.
Journey: Hook of Holland to Harwich via Stena Lines – Hollandica Superferry
This ferry was launched this year (April 2010) and will join another Superferry in Autumn. These cost £375 million pounds. Shame they didn’t spend much on thinking about the overall experience for disabled people. Granted the ship had some nice touches but compared to our first crossing, the staff support was very poor.
Again, we pre booked a cabin with wheelchair access. We had our tickets printed at the car booth which they told us also acts as your room key. This was the same as our first journey.
On locating the cabin (which had us wandering the isles of cabins to work out the number system) we found the door had a small low touch pad with a slot to insert the room key card. It also had a normal handle on the door. I believe the door was supposed to open automatically. I say supposed, because it didn’t work.
My husband tried several times and the light flashed but nothing opened. Eventually a member of staff said we had to have a normal key to put in the door. What use is that! The automated door was not working and when we got in we could see why – the opening door arm was not fitted but the electronics were there. It was also kind of … orange!
The bathroom featured a level entry (roll in) shower area with seat and lots of grab rails. The toilet had two grab rails either side and room to side transfer to one side. I’m not that fat but due to scoliosis, lean to the right side. When the grab rails come down they basically wedged me onto the toilet and are closer than what you would find in your average UK accessible toilet. The floor surface is very soft, with good grip but like the previous ferry, the sink is not suitable for hair washing and difficult to reach for me personally.
The bathroom is rather nice but the flat push panel to open the bathroom automatic door is situated above the side unit of the bed on the left of the cabin. So if you have to sleep on the right bed (which I do because of my spine) you can’t press the button from bed. However, if you are a wheelchair user, how someone could sit on the bed, press the button, transfer into their chair and then get through the door before it closed again in about 10 seconds is beyond me anyway! The bathroom door swings back and because it is wide, there is only a few set places your wheelchair can go or it hits you and closes again. If you are standing in the way of the door the force would knock you off your feet – my wheelchair would rock with the force and it’s a weighty machine. The location of the switch hasn’t really been thought through in the overall design I felt and the close mechanism is rather violent (but possibly needed to close a large heavy door).
The cabins were nice though putting these problems to the side even if they did vibrate something chronic.
I was a bit miffed that the free wifi was only for 3 hours and the ‘reception all over the boat’ meant one bar if you’re lucky. We also got an incredibly poor service when purchasing food as what we wanted from the menu wasn’t actually available and my husband ended up with a microwave meal and I ended up with a chicken burger that makes McDonalds look like a 5 star restaurant. The guy who ‘cooked’ our meal was more interested in the football on the plasma tv installed in the food court than customer service. We had no offer of help to carry the tray and no ‘quiet area’ as in my previous blog. Too much money spent on umpteen plasma screen tvs and bars than on customer care I think.
There was this one time when I was at work an hour and a bit away form home, and assured my meeting room had 1 accessible loo. On arrival I saw a sign ‘out of order’ I enquired and was dismayed at having to stay there for many hours with no loo to use!
A maintenance guy came back and said oh don’t worry, it’s just that the seat wobbles as it’s broke (giving me a demo of a very wobbly, broken, seat that was totally unsafe).
Considering I have no balance at the best of times I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to cross my legs. He then said something like ‘it’s not that far to fall anyway… I’m sure it will be ok’. Eh hmmm. Guess I’ll be wetting myself then…
Earlier this year I was delighted to be invited to contribute to the Travelling Toilet Tales film – where a number of us shared our story about planning journeys around toilet requirements. At home I have the right facilities, space, design etc … but outside the home and on holiday it’s a different story.
I chose to contribute via narrating a poem about how difficult it is to go on a day out and find a toilet that is suitable – even with the basics!
Pop to the festival to find out more, listen to our contributions and chat with those attending. I can’t go in person but I will be around on Twitter and our Facebook page to chat about the weird and wonderful (and hugely varied) toilet designs and how this can impact disabled people.
The Utopia Fair will be hosting 35 representatives from contemporary utopian movements from all over the UK on stalls in the Somerset House courtyard. The Travelling Toilet Tales stall will offer the public an exciting first glimpse of a draft of our animated Toilet Tales film. Featuring stories from a range of toilet users, including truckers, disabled parents, and non-binary people, the film is an exploration into the ways in which everyday journeys are planned around the un/availability of a suitable toilet. Visitors will also get the chance to listen to the individual toilet stories in full, browse our postcards and artwork, and talk to the special guests joining us on the stall.
Next door, the Servicing Utopia project will be joined by artists who will invite visitors to create utopian toilet models. This weekend will also present the first opportunity to view the interactive digital Toilet Toolkit and short animated film produced by the Servicing Utopia team. The toolkit is aimed at architects and other design professionals to promote the accessible design of toilet spaces and will allow users to virtually ‘walk around’ toilet spaces and interact with items within the space.
Our newest research projects, Travelling Toilet Tales and Servicing Utopia, will both appear at the Utopia Fair in Somerset House in London this weekend (24th-26th June). The Utopia Fair will be hosting 35 representatives from contemporary utopian movements from all over the UK on stalls in the Somerset House courtyard. The Travelling Toilet Tales stall […]
Today we launch our new campaign #BiggerIsBetter [Bigger Is Better].
We hear over and over again how much people struggle with the size of wheelchair accessible toilets.
Unfortunately, the size suggested by building regulation guidance is far too small for the types of wheelchairs and scooters that people use today.
We need to raise awareness and explain why meeting building regulations does not mean they are meeting their legal duties to provide usable toilets under the Equality Act [Disability Discrimination]. Very few businesses are aware of this.
Wheelchair users can often not get into these toilet spaces, turn around or transfer safely. They become unusable. An unusable toilet might as well not be built.
Every toilet that gets built to this size could mean decades of being unable to use that toilet. If nothing happens now – the future will remain bleak.
If the standards are not going to change, then the only way forward is to reach out to as many businesses and new developments as possible and encourage them to see that bigger is better.
We need to encourage larger spaces and where possible Space to Change or Changing Places. Without larger spaces, wheelchair and scooter users will continue to struggle to live as equal citizens in the UK.
Please join the campaign and help spread the word. Share our posters, pictures and your experiences.